President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday introduced members of his “climate team,” six key Cabinet and White House positions that he’s charged with coordinating his administration’s plan to slash U.S. greenhouse gas emissions while also tackling environmental justice concerns.
The group includes his picks for EPA administrator, North Carolina regulator Michael Regan; Interior secretary, Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M.; and the new position of White House climate czar, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy.
Agriculture Secretary-designate Tom Vilsack was introduced earlier and was not included in Saturday's event, but he will have a key role to play in carrying out Biden's plans to financially reward farmers for undertaking climate-friendly practices.
"Just like we need a unified national response to COVID-19, we need a unified national response to climate change," Biden said.
He reiterated his pledge to enlist farmers in reducing carbon emissions, but didn't provide any detail on how he will carry out that or other aspects of his climate policy.
“We see farmers making (U.S.) agriculture first in the world to achieve net zero emissions and gain new sources of income in the process,” he said.
But he also emphasized his plan to move Americans into electric vehicles, a shift that would likely decrease demand for biofuels over time. He reiterated his pledge to have 500,000 charging stations installed around the country and said he would ensure the federal government is buying electric vehicles for its own fleet.
“The federal government owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles. We're going to harness the purchasing power of our federal government to make sure we're buying clean electric vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in America,” he said.
Biden also reiterated his plan to create a "modern-day Civilian Climate Corps,” modeled after the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, “to heal our public lands and make us less vulnerable to wildfires and floods.”
Regan, a former EPA official who is now the director of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, said he grew up hunting and fishing with his father and grandfather in eastern North Carolina and “developed a deep love and respect for the outdoors and our natural resources.”
Regan, who is African American, pledged to “move with a sense of urgency on climate change, protecting our drinking water and enacting an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities.”
He said that his North Carolina position has given him an understanding of “how the actions of the EPA can help or hurt local efforts. We are going to ensure that the EPA is once again a strong partner for the states, not a roadblock."
He said that “environmental protection and economic prosperity … are not mutually exclusive and go hand in hand.”
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Haaland, who is of Pueblo Indian heritage, fought back tears as she talked about the challenges of living on food stamps as a single mother.
She said Biden’s climate goals “are driven by justice and empowering communities who have shouldered the burdens of environmental negligence. “
Haaland has taken an interest in using agriculture and land policy to address greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, she introduced the Climate Stewardship Act with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the bill would dramatically expand the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program at USDA and fund the planting of more than 15 billion trees on federal lands and around the country.
McCarthy, who will be tasked with coordinating climate policy across the government, said that climate change “isn’t only a threat to the plant, it’s a threat to the health and well-being of people, and the precious natural resources we depend on.”
She added, “our success will require the engagement of every community and every sector in our nation, and every country across our world.”
The other members of the “climate team” are Energy Secretary-designate Jennifer Granholm, a former governor of Michigan; Brenda Mallory, picked to head the White House Council on Environmental Quality; and Ali Zaidi, who will be McCarthy’s deputy as national climate adviser.